“Water, water everywhere and all the drops to drink.”
That’s how I would describe the current world of online language acquisition. There are so many options out there, you don’t even know where to start.
As the World Wide Web grows wider and the devices used to navigate it become smaller, finding your way through the modern Tower of Babel is a matter of time rather than resources.
It’s undeniable that the Internet has transformed the way we learn languages, particularly by making learning a much more accessible experience.
The Benefits of Learning Portuguese with Websites
Maybe you live in a remote enough area that language tutors aren’t readily available, but if you have internet coverage and a computer or smartphone, you’re good to go. Luis Von Ahn had this very thing in mind when creating the free language learning app Duolingo, stating that in his homeland of Guatemala people usually own at least a low-end smartphone, despite living in a developing country.
Another advantage attached to this one is breaking down the economic barrier. Once a skill reserved for the elite, learning foreign languages has widely become a common practice thanks to all the free websites and apps.
Since a lot of these resources are funded through advertising and crowdsourcing, they eliminate the need for charging the user. Even when there are costs associated, the ratio of price to quantity of material tends to be better than in the case of traditional learning methods (classes, tutoring, textbooks).
Cutting down the costs of learning has lead to a democratization of education, allowing people from less privileged backgrounds to acquire a language with fewer restrictions and obstacles.
Lastly, learning a language online comes with a great deal of flexibility, which reveals itself in many aspects. For one, you get to set the pace for your learning experience, doing it as often and as regularly as you wish.
Space constraints also become a lesser issue, as most internet-access devices can be carried anywhere from the park to the commute train.
Lastly, you’re granted the complete personalization of your language acquisition, which you can tailor to your specific needs and interests. There isn’t any type of learner out there that the Internet doesn’t cater to.
10 Websites That Make Learning Portuguese a Walk in the Park
While it’s undoubtedly a great time to become a polyglot, having so many options to choose from can become a bit overwhelming.
On that account, I’ve compiled a list of my personal go-to websites for learning Portuguese, to be enjoyed from the comfort of your keyboard/tablet/smartphone/whatever other gizmo they’ve invented that I don’t know about.
If you’re ready to take the dive, then read on and bora lá, companheiro (let’s go, partner)!
I was so very pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Ba Ba Dum, as it’s the perfect cocktail of fun and knowledge. It features 22 languages, including our beloved Portuguese, and yet somehow it manages to be completely free.
It’s got cute little games that you can alternate between or even mix and match to practice your vocabulary and spelling, after which you receive a score.
I also love that it doesn’t shy away from some cheeky words and expressions such as mamas (breasts) or fazer coco (to poop), accompanied by equally delightful illustrations. The visuals on Ba Ba Dum overall are a huge plus, since I’m a staunch believer that knowledge is best served with a side of eye candy.
All in all, its playful approach to language learning makes Ba Ba Dum uma delicia (a treat) and secures its spot on the must-have list of online resources on the matter.
Well, looks like the Portuguese government caught up with the trend and decided to launch its very own Portuguese learning platform. It’s only 6 months old so it may appear a little “green” compared to its competitors but it’s being updated regularly and it shows great potential.
The format is comparable to Busuu for European Portuguese, with 24 themed modules divided between “Elementary” and “Independent” levels of practice. Each module come with its own targets stated at the beginning, which helps you assess if you got the most out of it or if you need to revisit it.
It’s extremely detailed and well-structured so as to cover the four pillars of fluency (reading, writing, listening, speaking) both in terms of information and exercises.
What’s more, shortly after registering you’re assigned a tutor for you to exchange messages with and clear up any doubts. This tutor will also evaluate the exams which you’ll be taking after each of the six consecutive modules.
Bear in mind that the platform, while open to everyone, is targeted primarily at immigrants to Portugal, a fact which you’ll find reflected in the content of the modules. You get to learn, for example, about a Ukrainian tour guide or a receptionist from Morocco. Props to the Portuguese government for owning up to its immigrants and offering this nifty tool for everyone to feel at home in Portugal! Even those of us who are just dreaming about getting there.
If you identify more as the one-on-one kind of learner, you should know you have no shortage of options. You’re probably familiar with the big names in online tutoring, like italki and Verbling, but the less mainstream Portuguese with Carla is no less deserving of your attention.
Aside from having a name similar to mine, which is always a plus, Carla is a born and raised alfacinha who moved to the UK at age 18 and who, above all, really knows her stuff.
Click the “Teaching Basis” tab on her site and you’ll be greeted by an abundance of textbooks that she’s gone through, most dealing in phraseology, psychology and other “-ologies” that I don’t even dare spell.
As she astutely puts it, you just have to trust her and think of her “as your mechanic, you don’t need to know how the engine is built to be able to drive, but when you get stuck, I’ll be there to help”
The price for kicking it with Carla is $38.18/session (converted from British £, hence the oddly specific number) and it goes down as the number of sessions acquired goes up. Have your pick anywhere from the Silver (3 sessions) to the Platinum bundle (10 sessions) or try out her free lessons in the form of podcasts with exercises to get a feel for her style.
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the ones that work the best. For what could be simpler and easier than an open source, community-driven dictionary for slang words and expressions? And yet, Speak Like A Brazilian is a treasure in its own right.
In saying this, I must admit I have a soft spot for Portuguese slang talk, as it’s quite colorful and it manages to capture the spirit of the people admirably. Not only that, but it was hella handy during my time in Portugal, when I would compensate for my lack of grammar savvy with local calão (slang), which never failed to put a smile on those confused people’s faces.
But back to the matter at hand. As you may have guessed from the name, Speak Like A Brazilian may be of more use to you in the land of caipirinha (Brazil) than in the land of fado (Portugal) but sometimes the calão crosses over and surely any Lusophone can deduce the meaning of the expressions. If not, all the better—it just means you get to wow them with your extra knowledge when you explain what you meant!
Be advised, this isn’t a resource for the easily blushing. At the moment I’m writing this, the site has 53 pages packed with slang and from the first page alone I already learned how to say “love handles” and what to call a quick slap to the head. The following pages are sure to get even less inhibited and more entertaining.
We’re back to one-on-one tutoring with this one-of-a-kind online learning experience. “The Flow of Portuguese” is the brainchild of one Idahosa Ness, who is also, to my knowledge, the creator and main practitioner of the Mimic Method.
This method, similar to the shadowing technique, entails focusing on pronunciation and learning a language by ear rather than “by eye,” which according to Idahosa will make you a master of Portuguese in no time. Well, it worked for him all right, just check him out rapping in eight different languages!
In short, Idahosa claims his course will train your pronunciation so that you don’t sound like a gringo—or in my case, like Borat—when trying to speak Portuguese.
How exactly does he plan to achieve this? By giving you personalized feedback based on the recordings you submit for every lesson, by putting you through a “Boot Camp” in order to grasp those pesky nasal vowels and by having a ball with the learning experience, replacing flashcards and charts with songs and rapping.
His method may seem a bit controversial, but many swear by it and I love the originality element it brings forward. It’s the perfect tool if your main focus for learning Portuguese is developing conversation skills, be it for an upcoming trip or communicating with your significant other or any array of reasons.
To get into the Flow of Portuguese with Idahosa you’ll have to dish out $147.00, completely refundable after 60 days should you find it doesn’t quite work for you. Give the free e-course a go first and decide if you’re ready to get rid of the accent and rap like a Portuguese Eminem.
FluentU, fluent Me, fluent everyone! The ultimate in language learning tools is here to get you immersed to your heart’s content. And not only that, but it will immerse you in native video content, anything from movie trailers to music videos being fair game for learning.
It’s pretty sweet to be able to watch a news broadcast in your desired language, follow the interactive captions and just hover over any word to pause the video and get a comprehensive definition.
This particular system makes for developing great sentence structure know-how and the authentic materials ensure that you get a genuine language experience, instead of endless flashcard browsing. There’s also an element of “gamification” involved, as every course is followed by a video-based quiz.
FluentU then tracks your progress and customizes your video suggestions. You can see how much of a video you already know before you even click it. I find the pacing of lessons to be quite flowy and I also dig their reviewing alerts that don’t let you slack off too much from your practice.
There are both Basic and Plus plans, but the really good stuff is packed into its Plus plan, which, for personalized Learn Mode and unlimited everything—including PDF printouts—is well worth the investment.
Not so fast, though—the FluentU Portuguese learning program is still in development, so stay tuned for updates and a release date.
Each time I have to write something in Portuguese it gets me wondering: do they really need all those diacritics? Does their letter “A” really need so many ornaments to adorn itself with? And will I ever manage to match avó (grandmother) and avô (grandfather) with their rightful meanings?
Then I remember what a wonderfully musical concoction the Portuguese language is and I make peace with its orthography.
If your relationship with scribbling in Portuguese is as complicated as mine, then you’ll absolutely love Lang-8. It’s a social network built around the idea of language exchange, specifically written language exchange.
You write a “journal,” i.e. any text written in your target language, and native speakers will correct it for you. You’ll also get useful comments and feedback and can request help with transcribing videos in your language of choice.
Lang-8 is a bit reminiscent of RhinoSpike, the site where native speakers record audios of the texts you submit in their language. I say that not just based on the social twist it gives to language learning, which I find brilliant, but also because they both share the “tit for tat” element that encourages you to not only ask for help but also to provide help to those trying to learn your mother tongue.
To really enjoy Lang-8 to the fullest, I would suggest ending your post with a question, so that people can engage with you. For instance, if you’re writing about how tasty Pastéis de Belém are, you can ask people what other Portuguese desserts they would recommend. It’s a good way to not only absorb corrections, but actually interact with others.
I’m all for living in a Global village. The Global-er, the better. It is thus of no surprise that I would be a fan of HiNative, a Q&A community connecting language learners and native speakers.
Hailing from the same creators as Lang-8, it works basically on the same principle except with Twitter-style posts instead of paragraphs. The interface is quite friendly and provides you with four question formats: [How do you say this], [Does this sound natural], [What’s the difference] and [Free Question].
While the first three have to do specifically with aspects of language learning, the “Free Question” grants you more freedom with the topic, allowing you to pose questions about local culture, cuisine, bureaucracy—basically anything that the other formats don’t cover.
What’s more, recently an “Audio Upload” option has became available on the site, very useful for when you can’t type and for boosting your pronunciation as well!
If you’re thinking the name looks familiar, you probably read about it in my article on improving listening and are now having “déjà vu all over again,” in the great words of Yogi Berra.
Since I’ve already blabbed about this website, I’ll keep it short and sweet this time. Practice Portuguese offers free podcasts in authentic continental Portuguese, infused with slang, references to local culture and the occasional adorable appearance by the founder’s grandma (avó – there, I got it right).
You can also upgrade to some premium features ($6-ish/month) which include subtitles, a written transcript, a list of key words and expressions and a quiz for every podcast.
Although maybe not abundant in content, I find Practice Portuguese a good bridge between having mastered the basics of the language and holding conversations with natives. They even group podcasts by level of difficulty from “Easy” to “Advanced,” with a special distinction between Artigo (article) and Diálogo (dialogue) type episodes.
Polly Lingual and its cute parrot logo are on this list because it has the best of both worlds: it’s a technologically-advanced language learning tool with a human touch.
The tech part consists of predictive lesson algorithms that adapt the pace and lessons based on your progress. It also has material grouped by special interests, namely travel, medicine and business. Each lesson gives you written and audio content, so you can learn with both your eyes and your ears.
Most lessons can be downloaded as PDF files, which will come in very handy if you want to practice Spaced Repetition.
Also make sure to check out each time the games available, including my personal favorite, Whack-a-Word. It’s a good whacking that perhaps won’t give you as much tension release as a Whack-a-Mole, but will surely do much more for your Portuguese vocabulary.
Now, the human component of Polly Lingual comes in the form of its Polly Ambassadors, AKA registered native speakers that offer private tutoring for fixed hourly rates.
Choose the one that’s right for you if you want to work on getting conversational, homo sapiens to homo sapiens. Because Polly knows that confidence to express yourself is just as important as awesome conjugation skills.
So there you have it, the essential websites for conquering the Portuguese language.
Now that you know that fluency is just a hop, skip and a click away, nothing can stand between you and complete “Portuguesation.”
Well, nothing except your Internet service provider, maybe.
Clara Abdullah. 26, Romanian, heavy dreamer, light sleeper. Still bears of the scent of the Tejo river. Never says “no” to an amarguinha on the rocks with lemon.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Portuguese with real-world videos.